The Only Good Indians, written by Steven Graham Jones, is a hell of a good book. Briefly, it tells the story of four Native American Men (Indians as they refer to themselves) who make a mistake. At first, it doesn’t seem like a mistake, but it is. And it’s a big one, as they, and we the readers, come to find out.
I don’t want to get too much into the plot details because the story is fairly straightforward. However, the way Graham develops and unfolds the story is masterful. From the beginning, The Only Good Indians, offers a sense of dread and fear. Oh, and violence, too, of course. This book has some moments of extreme and bloody violence that are visceral and powerful. The gore and the blood and the cruelty are not gratuitous; rather, it all serves the telling of the story.
At its core, The Only Good Indians is a story of pain, suffering, revenge, and atonement. Though, to be fair, that last one is iffy as its achievement is arguable. The novel also explores the dichotomy between Indian tradition and the modern world. This theme is a common one in Graham’s writing, and he really fleshes it out here.
All four men involved in making the mistake struggle with their identity and place in the world. They may know who they are, but they don’t know why, or what to do about it. Some have dreams of leaving the reservation, while others unhappily stay there. There’s so much truth about humanity in this novel, it hurts.
The Language of The Only Good Indians Sings With Fear and Pain
Graham knows how to use language to its maximum effect, providing sparse yet vivid details of frozen landscapes, dead animals, and bloody body parts. As I read this book, I felt the pain of the characters, their fear, and the chill of winter.
Beyond,that though, I could also feel their hopes, dreams, and contrition. It is not fair to call the characters in this novel evil or bad (even the killer isn’t evil, just forlorn). They aren’t saints, either, but rather are striving to do the best they can. Of course, when we try to do what’s right, or at least what’s right for us, things can go sour quick.
The depth Graham gives the people in this book is enviable and admirable, as are his terrifying descriptions.
If you like horror stories and Native American stories, then The Only Good Indians might be right up your ally. Check it out. And if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments.